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2014-2015 Devils Preview: Vet Cemetery

Dan Pennucci

Dan is a former sportswriter and English teacher. He has been covering hockey for Rotowire since 2002. Supports the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC.

Boy, 2003 sure seems like a long time ago. The Devils have missed the playoffs in two consecutive years and three of the last four campaigns.

They bid farewell to their franchise player this past summer, letting Martin Brodeur and his poor stat line walk (he still remains unsigned). In waving goodbye to Brodeur, the Devils locked up their future in the crease with a long-term deal for Cory Schneider, as they aim to get back to the playoffs in a division where one could argue they are one of the weakest teams.

By most accounts, 2013-14 was a forgettable season which saw the Devils finish five points out the second wild card spot, with an 0-13 showing in shootouts undoubtedly playing a role. The Devils scored a mere four times in 45 shootout attempts last season. Four. The shootout losses hurt their playoff chances, but those frustrating defeats were more a byproduct of the fact that the team couldnít close out games, hold leads late or get the crucial next goal.

To address last seasonís shortcoming, the Devils continued last summerís trend of assembling a team that would have been good five years ago. Adding to the 2013 arrivals of Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder were this summerís signings of Martin Havlat and Michael Cammalleri. The Devils didnít stop there, extending training camp invitations to the formerly talented duo of Scott Gomez and defenseman Tomas Kaberle. While Gomez and Kaberle are by no means assured of making the roster, Havlat and Cammalleri join the likes of Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, the franchiseís all-time leading scorer. On defense, Marek Zidlicky is the ultimate risk/reward pick, as few players are more prone to disappearing for stretches of games at a time. And last seasonís rookie breakout, Eric Gelinas, remains unsigned as of press time.

In goal, the Devils losing Brodeur is not necessarily a bad thing, as the aging veteran ranked as one of the worst performers among starting goaltenders in the league. Conversely, Cory Schneider finished with a 1.97 GAA and a .921 save percentage, despite a middling 16-15-12 record in 45 contests. Schneider is an attractive option after the elite goaltenders are snagged, as he will deliver excellent peripheral stats, albeit not as many wins as the likes of Tuukka Rask. The mere law of averages suggests Schneider will have some better puck luck this season. In case youíre curious, the backup job is between Keith Kinkaid and veteran Scott Clemmensen, neither of whom should see much action barring injury. Schneider could potentially play in a Brodeur-esque 70 or 75 games.

Just because the Devils are going to be a bubble team again this season does not mean their players should be ignored. Their forwards typically donít put up huge numbers, but they possess numerous players who can provide valuable secondary scoring.

The Big Guns

Jaromir Jagr, RW (RotoWire Position Rank*: #24): The signing of Jagr last season raised several questions around the league, given the former starís age (41) and the fact that heíd be playing on his third team in two seasons. However, Jagr quelled the doubters with a successful first season with the Devils and parlayed it into another one-year deal to remain in Newark, where he should again challenge for the teamís scoring title, an honor he earned last season with 67 points and 23 goals. He was New Jerseyís most consistent offensive player, albeit for a team that was one of the lowest-scoring in the league. His health is aided by a well-publicized work ethic that keeps him in excellent shape, allowing his aging body to handle the rigors of an NHL season. Jagr should again see plenty of scoring opportunities and challenge for around 55 points, leading an offense that can only perform better than it did during the 2013-14 campaign.

*RotoWire Position Ranks reflected for points-based leagues*

Patrik Elias, LW (RotoWire Position Rank: #39): The crafty Czech veteran again saw his season hampered by nagging injuries, as he missed 17 games. Through it all, Elias still finished with a decent points-per-game rate, notching 17 goals and 36 assists in 65 tilts. Elias has been inconsistent the last two seasons, but he is still one of New Jerseyís top offensive weapons and will again be deployed freely. Heíll turn 38 this season, but will still be worth a gamble in the later rounds after younger players with more upside have been snagged. Elias can be a reliable source of secondary scoring, however, he wonít be a large contributor in shots on goal, as he averaged under two per game last season. The bottom line is that Elias is one of several aging offensive players on whom the Devils will rely, perhaps to their detriment.

Cory Schneider, G (RotoWire Position Rank: #14): With Martin Brodeur no longer a Devil, Schneider enters this season as his teamís undisputed No. 1 netminder for the first time in his career. On the ice last season, Schneiderís season was an amalgamation of bad luck, poor goal support and some rough stretches of play, as he posted a 16-15-15 record with a miniscule 1.97 GAA and a .921 save percentage. Schneider lost more than his share of games last season when the Devils were shut out. Moreover, he was a victim of the teamís inability to close out games either in regulation or the shootout, as the Devils didnít win a single time in the latter scenario last season. With Brodeur out of the picture, thereís reason to believe Schneider might play 70 games this season as the teamís backstop. The Devils might not give Schneider league-leading win totals this year, but his averages will be strong enough to make those nights he loses 1-0 and 2-1 easier to take.

At Your Own Risk

Marek Zidlicky, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #55): Arguably one of the teamís most enigmatic players, Zidlicky led the team in blueline scoring, scattering 42 points over 81 games. Eight of his 12 goals came on the power play, but Zidlicky typically binged on points, scoring for multiple games at a time and then vanishing completely. Heís a frustrating player to own and not the greatest in his own end, but he possesses a skill set the Devils find necessary. If you opt for Zidlickyís services, prepare to be frustrated, as heíll do enough every few games to remind you he has some value...right before disappearing again.

Martin Havlat, RW (RotoWire Position Rank: #71): The Devils signed Havlat for what could be a bargain if the veteran winger is able to harness some of the skill heís shown in his career, one that has been plagued by injury and inconsistency. He hasnít cracked 30 points since leaving Minnesota and saw his ice time limited during his second stint with San Jose, before being bought out last season. His talent has never been denied, but consistency and the ability to stay healthy will go a long way in dictating how he is able to mesh with Czech teammates Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias. Havlat is worth a late look or a waiver pick up if he can show a semblance of the skill that used to make him a productive forward.

Michael Cammalleri, C (RotoWire Position Rank: #37): The Devils were rumored to be close to acquiring Cammalleri at last seasonís trade deadline, but ended up balking at Calgaryís rather high asking price. Instead, the Devils made the veteran sniper their prized free-agent acquisition this summer, inking him to a five-year, $25 million contract. What the Devils have ended up with is still up for debate -- is it the player who was a consistent scoring threat several seasons ago, or the enigmatic veteran who missed multiple stretches of games last season, scattering 26 goals over 65 games? Regardless, Cammalleri will get a chance to score on the Devils, but how often he contributes is the question. He could be worth a look in the later rounds of your draft, given he has the potential to hit 30 goals if he stays healthy.

On the Rise

Eric Gelinas, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #67): One of last seasonís most surprising and vexing players, Gelinas showed flashes of offensive talent mixed in with tentativeness and spotty defensive zone play. His ability to contribute from the blue line was evident early during his 60-game tenure, as most of his 29 points came before the calendar hit 2014, save for two multi-point games. He has a booming slap shot and isnít shy about using it, but he found himself on a seemingly permanent shuttle between Newark and AHL Albany. Gelinas was often made an example of by coach Peter DeBoer, as the youngster was punished for small mistakes and saw his ice time severely limited in even-strength situations, even suiting up as a spare forward at times. Consistent ice time is far from guaranteed despite the obvious offensive upside. Should he be assured a regular role, look for his confidence to grow.

Adam Larsson, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #114): Will this be the year that the 2011 No. 4 overall pick makes the jump and shows the potential heís long been rumored to have? Larsson saw limited action with the Devils last season, playing 26 games and registering just a goal and an assist over that span. Larsson will turn 22 in November and should see more ice time this season with the departure of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov. He will need to demonstrate consistency defensively to stay in the lineup, as coach Peter DeBoer has a short leash with young defenders. Larsson is worth a gamble in deep leagues and keeper leagues; just be sure to monitor his ice time.

Jon Merrill, D (RotoWire Position Rank: #192): One of several young defensemen who saw action for New Jersey last season, the former University of Michigan star played the most out of the budding blueliners, as he was able to adapt defensively more quickly than teammate Eric Gelinas. Merrill grabbed two goals and 11 points in 52 contests last season while averaged 19:14 of ice time as a rookie. The Devils would like him to contribute more offensively, but he wonít be a liability in his own zone, something the Devils find more valuable. Merrillís role on the team likely will increase this season, and heís worth a look in very deep keeper leagues.

Donít Overrate

Michael Ryder, RW (RotoWire Position Rank: #57): One of two Newfoundland natives brought to the team last season, Ryder was a picture of frustration for the Devils. His 18 goals were near the top of the teamís scoring chart, but the fact that he had just two goals from Jan. 12 until the end of the season was disconcerting, considering he was acquired to boost the teamís scoring output. Ryder used to be a lock for 30 goals and was usually a value in the middle rounds, but he will have to prove himself after a woefully inconsistent campaign on one of the leagueís worst offensive teams. The Devils will use him as a top-six forward; you should exercise better judgment on your fantasy roster.

Ryane Clowe, LW (RotoWire Position Rank: #54): After signing a huge contract last summer, Cloweís first season in New Jersey was plagued by concussions and injury, as he suited up in a mere 43 games scattered throughout the season. The veteran finished with seven goals and 19 assists, most of which came over two separate scoring binges that sandwiched the Olympic break. Clowe likely wonít drop the gloves too much, as his first concussion came via a fight last season, thus limiting his value in the penalty minutes category. Heíll still see some top-six minutes with New Jersey as well as power-play time, but consistent offensive production likely wonít come from Clowe. Like most of his teammates, Clowe was shuffled around constantly and struggled to find his niche in New Jersey. Further compounding issues was the concussion he suffered at the end of last season, but he should be ready for training camp.

Top Prospects

Damon Severson, D (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #78): Severson is one of several young blueliners in the organization. Selected in the second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Severson is coming off an excellent campaign with the WHLís Kelowna Rockets, for whom he tallied 15 goals and 46 assists over 64 games. The 20-year-old probably wonít push for a duty with the Devils until later this season at the earliest, but he could become a fixture on the blue line at some point during the 2015-16 campaign.

Steve Santini, D (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #79): While fellow Devils top blueline prospect Damon Severson has elected to keep playing at the junior level, Santini is poised to begin his sophomore season at perennial NCAA powerhouse Boston College. As a freshman, Santini totaled three goals and eight assists over 35 games, numbers that werenít earth-shattering, but perfectly respectable for a debut college season. At 6-foot-2, Santini possess ideal size on the blue line, and has shown good awareness and responsibility in his own zone. His offense may never catch up with his defensive skills, however, which could perhaps limit his upside as a fantasy asset once he reaches the NHL.

Reid Boucher, RW (RotoWire Prospects Rank: #87): One of New Jerseyís brighter offensive prospects, Boucher snagged 22 goals and 38 points in 56 contests in the AHL while potting just two goals in 23 contests with the big club. He wonít come close to challenging the 62 goals he notched in his last season with OHL Sarnia, but he should see some time with the Devils this season, either due to injury or a lack of scoring. New Jersey definitely needs scoring help, but Boucher may be a year or two away from being able to consistently contribute. File his name away for keeper leagues.